I’ve been wary of expired film in the past. The possibility of spending time and money buying, shooting and developing film with no guarantee of any results put me off. Buying expired film does offer one exclusive advantage, however: access to discontinued stocks. While browsing online auctions recently, I came across Paterson Acupan 800. An ISO 800 black and white film from a manufacturer better known for darkroom equipment. The opportunity to try something rare and interesting had me hammering on the buy it now button.

A bit of googling while waiting for my package to arrive told me that Acupan 800 was a rebrand of Fomapan T800. I didn’t read much more because I wanted to make my own mind up about the film, and also because I feel the joy draining from my soul whenever I spend too long on internet discussion boards.

Three rolls turned up at my door a few days later and I quickly loaded one into my Pentax P30n to start experimenting. I shot the first roll freely, trying to get a range of different lighting scenarios and subject matter.

20-year expired Paterson Acupan 800, my Pentax P30n and Pentax-a 50mm f:1.7, Michael Boffey
20-year expired Paterson Acupan 800, my Pentax P30n and Pentax-a 50mm f:1.7, Michael Boffey

Thanks to EM’s comprehensive “How to shoot expired film” article I knew that an 800-speed film that expired 20 years ago was going to be a bit of a crapshoot. I overexposed by 2 stops thinking it would be plenty.

The results from the first roll were disappointing. Very low contrast made for dull images and enough grain to make details illegible. I gave it another go, this time shooting at EI 100 and looking for contrasty scenes. The extra stop of exposure made a world of difference. The grain was surprisingly fine this time and the images were easier to scan and edit. I was amazed at how much light the film could deal with; while highlights did blow out in very bright parts of some frames, the results aren’t unpleasant.

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Most interesting though, was the process of shooting when looking for contrasty scenes. It was very freeing and helped focus my eye when I went out with my camera. I imagine this is how it feels to focus on a particular project or motif, as some photographers like to do. Limitations can feed creativity.

I’m not completely sold on expired film but I did learn a lot from trying it out. I know now that overexposing black and white film can drastically change your results and that (at least some) black and white emulsions can really suck up light and keep delivering good results. I also know that I enjoy going out to take pictures with a concept in my mind and will be trying it out more often.

I haven’t rushed out to shoot my final roll of Paterson 800 but I did learn a lot from the experience. If you’re considering trying something new in your camera, I say go for it. Even if you don’t like your pictures you’re bound to learn something.

~ Mike

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About the author

Avatar - Mike Boffey

Michael Boffey

I’ve been making film photographs since the UK went into lockdown in March 2020. You can find more of the photos I’ve made during this time and get in touch with me on my Instagram.


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